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impossible for us to guess. In the continental languages, which are, for the most part, more fruitful in ponderosities than ours, it is not improbable that many instances of rival, or even superior prolixity, may be found. Conrad of Würzburg, an early German poet, is said to have written an epic on the Trojan war, of which the first twenty-five thousand verses brought the action down to the sacrifice of Iphigenia. A similar story is told of Antimachus, of Colophon. And the “Shah-nameh” of Ferdusi, according to the estimate given in our account of that poet, (No. VIII. p. 204-5) contains no less than a hundred and twenty thousand verses ; an aggregate sufficient, if bulk were the criterion of excellence," to weigh down the whole collective body of our western heroics.
In our own days, when brevity (at least in these matters) is so generally considered indispensable, we are apt to wonder how our forefathers could find time or patience for the perusal, much more for the composition, of such productions as the one before us. True it is, that they had much fewer books to read, and could, consequently, tolerate a greater degree of diffuseness in those which they were called upon to peruse. Moreover, copiousness was as much the fashion in those days, as brevity (we hesitate to say conciseness) is in ours; nor was extraordinary length considered objectionable in a poem, any more than in a sermon or a system of philosophy. Their taste, too, was purer-we speak of the readers of poetry as a body, and as compared with the corresponding class in our own times. -They required no interest of story, or other adventitious aid, to make poetry palatable; it was enough for them that it was poetry. A poem, according to their ideas, (we will not say how far they were right,) was nothing more than a series of verses written under the genuine influence of the imaginative power;
it was a line; not à circle--and the line might stretch out to infinity for any thing they cared, provided only the materials were golden throughout. Among modern poems, Keate's
Endymion” is the most complete case in point; a work belonging to the seventeenth century, full of inspiration, and altogether destitute of factitious allurements. It may be safely maintained, for the reasons here mentioned, that this poem could never have attained general popularity in our own age, even had it escaped the tender mercies of the critics in office. So, too, with the writers of poetry; they felt little solicitude as to the track they should select, or the lengths to which it might lead them; so long as they proceeded under the visible guidance of the animating god; they followed whithersoever their fancies invited them, and wrote on, and on, with a tranquil and well-placed confidence in the patience of their readers. Books of such a kind possess this peculiar advan
tage, that we may lay them aside and resume them at any stage of the journey, without inconvenience. The student might browse upon a large portion, and lay up the rest in store for future occasions. To use the homely illustration of a methodist preacher on another subject, it was "cut and come again.” Scarcely any one in these days, except å student of poetry in the abstract, or a Retrospective Reviewer, would think of toiling through the four-and-twenty immense cantos of " Psyche;" and yet we cannot doubt that its composition afforded its worthy author many thousand hours of innocent and salutary pleasure, and that it found, in its own time, a class of readers to whom it was acceptable both for the sake of its subject, and its own merits. Nor can it be denied that, in point of taste, they were to say the least) as well employed in its perusal, as their grandchildren, in conning over Blackmore's “Creation," or Wesley's"Life of Christ.”.
Dr. Joseph Beaumont, little as his name is now remembered, was, in his own time, no undistinguished member of the literary and learned world. He was of a poetical stock, being descended from a collateral branch of the ancient family of the Beaumonts, from whence sprang Sir John Beaumont, the author of Bosworth Field; Francis, the celebrated dramatist; and others. He was born at Hadleigh, in Suffolk, and educated at the University of Cambridge, where we find him, at the time of the Civil war, fellow and tutor of Peterhouse. Being ejected from his offices by the republicans, he retired to his native place, and employed the compulsory leisure thus occasioned, in the composition of his " Psyche." . On the return of the monarch; he was reinstated in his former dignities, with the addition of some valuable pieces of preferment which were conferred on him by his patron, the munificent Bishop Wren. He afterwards exercised, in succession, the offices of Master of Jesus and of Peterhouse, and King's Professor of Divinity, which latter situation he held from 1670 to 1699, the year of his death. One of his biographers describes his character in a long sentence of antithetical eulogy, beginning with religious without bigotry,” and ending with " humble without meanness.” We are not inclined to question the latter assertion, but the former is more than problematical ;-although his bigotry was, probably, more of the heart than the head. He appears, in truth, from his writings, to have been one of a class of characters not un. common in that age, and which it is impossible to contemplate without a mixture of reverence for their high worth, and regret for the human prejudices and infirmities which rendered that worth, in a great measure, useless; a truly religious and upright, though narrow-minded man, capable of undergoing any sacrifice in defence of principles which he, perhaps, only imper.
fectly understood ; tenacious, to an excess, of the outward forms and observances of religion, yet strenuous in the performance of active duties to a degree not always united with this species of punctiliousness.
Besides “ Psyche,” which appeared first in 1648, and of which a second edition was published, by his son, in 1702, three years after his death, with numerous corrections and the addition of four cantos by the author, he wrote several smaller poems, English and Latin; a polemical tract in reply to Dr. Henry More's “ Mystery of Godliness ;” and a number of theological works, the bulk of which are still in manuscript, owing to a provision in his will to that effect.
The story of “ Psyche” has little in common with the old philosophical fable of
that name, except that, in both, the mystical union between God and the soul is represented by the same symbol, that of conjugal affection. It is a religious allegory, describing the progress of the divine life in man, and conducting the soul through the various trials of sensual allurement, pride, heresy, persecution, and spiritual desertion, to its final consummation in bliss. Several cantos are occupied with a poetical history of our Saviour's life and passion, by way of episode. As an allegory, “ Psyche” is exceedingly meagre and inartificial; the heroine herself is a vague featureless personification, and her attendants, Logos and Thelema, (the reason and the will) are poor and lifeless, compared with the bustling and dramatic personages of our old friend Bunyan, in the Siege of Mansoul--my Lord Will-be-will, Mr. Recorder Conscience, and the rest. Phylax, the protector or guardian angel of Psyche, is the only character for whom we entertain any thing approaching to personal interest. Nor can much be said for the evil spirits, who form the adverse machinery of the poem ; except, indeed, that they afford scope for a great deal of extravagant, but sometimes striking description. The poem is, in fact, little more than a tissue of reasonings, exhortations, and devotional effusions, pervaded by a slender thread of fiction, which appears to have been inserted merely because the author fancied that something of the kind was necessary to entitle his performance to the name of the poem. The true unity of the work consists in the predominance of one animating purpose, and in the continuity of thought and feeling thence ensuing; the allegory serves merely as a frame-work.
Were we to name the qualities which, in spite of all incongruities, redundancies, and defects, sustain the poem, and effectually prevent its interest from putrifying, we should say, the enthusiasm with which it is written, and the lively fancy which overgrows all its details and reflections like an efflorescence. The former attracts the sympathies of the reader, and
the latter relieves the uneasiness attendant upon protracted excitement of feeling. The religious zeal, which is the inspiring power of the work, is intense in the highest degree ; it is impossible not to perceive that the writer is deeply and unfeignedly engrossed by his solemn and affecting subject; and it is not in the nature of man to remain unmoved by the ardent emotions of another. We may participate in his elevations, or we may feel humbled by our inability to accompany them; or we may treat them as altogether visionary; or, finally, we may be in a state of harassing doubt and misgiving; but unaffected we cannot be. This is the preserving life of the poem; giving warmth and freshness to common-place; dignifying the ridiculous; rendering the extravagant less offensive; and diverting our attention from critical defects, by absorbing it in higher matters. It is this which has sustained us through a task, the immeasurable length of which, nothing less could have rendered endurable. True it is, that his religion is not, in all points, suited to poetry. Its merits, as well as its defects, in this respect, are, in part, owing to the theological school in which he was educated. There is a strongly Catholic cast in his piety; by which we understand what Protestants consider a disproportionate regard to the outward things of religion, a subservience to rule and prescription, even in trifles, and a blind and undiscriminating horror of all separation from the visible church, and of all dissent in doctrine, however unimportant. Such an approximation to Popery was not uncommon in the earlier ages of the church, while the separation was comparatively recent. Religion, like all other things, even where it is essentially the same, in passing through the mind of man, receives a colouring from the disposition and circumstances of the individual ; and, accordingly, while some of the fathers of our church approximate, in the style of their piety, to the great Puritan divines, others, of equal sincerity and fervour, and agreeing with the former in all the great points of faith and practice, bear a striking resemblance to the devouter Catholic writers. This is the case, even with many of those, who were, in their day, among the most decided and active opponents of the church of Rome. It is, indeed, curious, and, to one interested in the subject, highly gratifying and instructive, to observe, how similar are the features. of genuine piety in men of hostile communions; men, who, to use Southey's words, must have been astonished, when they met each other in Paradise.
To return to Dr. Beaumont, we know no writer, in whom the character above described is more strongly, we had almost said so strongly, marked. With the exception of the title-page, and a few indirect notices, scattered through the volume, there is nothing from which it could be determined,
VOL. XI. PART II.
whether the writer was a Catholic or a Protestant. We mention this peculiarity, as it influences his poetry, in various ways. Hence, that proneness to embody religion in sensible forms, which frequently conduces to picturesque effect; and, hence, on the other hand, a narrowness of view, which contrasts disagreeably with the nobleness and grandeur of his aspirations. To this may be added, a propensity to obtrude petty points of dispute (owing, in part, to the polemical turn of his age) which renders him, like Cowper, occasionally too doctrinal for poetry, Poetry deals only with great general truths, not with their subdivisions and limitations. When once a poet descends to bandy subtleties with an opponent, and to raise and answer objections, his cause is lost. reminded that the truths, on which the superstructure of passion and imagination is founded, are, in certain particulars at least, not self-evident; doubts are suggested to our mind; and the very act of doubting is fatal to all illusion, even though the doubt should be susceptible of a satisfactory solution. This, however, can seldom be the case ; even when we agree with the disputant in the main, there is generally some minute point of difference, some peculium of private belief, some diversity in the form of the opinion, though the matter may be the same; we hold the doctrine, but are not to be compelled to hold it in his way. Such prepossessions are usually too deeply rooted to be overthrown by a syllogism in verse; so that the poet abandons his own vantage-ground, without attaining the object for which he made the sacrifice. This, however, is only an occasional blemish in Dr. Beaumont's poetry. We ought not to omit, as one of the most prominent characteristics of his work, that it is deeply imbued with that mysticism (so called) which was in his time extensively prevalent, but which the extravagancies of the more fanatical Puritans, and of their successors, have since rendered unpopular in this country, as causes nearly similar led to its decline in France. This propensity is in his favour as a poet; for poetry loves to reside in the dim light of those ideas, which, from their very immensity, can only be imperfectly discerned. Dr. Beaumont deserves an honourable place among the mystic poets, for the spirit and fullness with which he has developed their system.
He is, moreover, free from many of the besetting sins of his brethren ; he incurs no superfluous obscurity by the use of technical terms; he never disjoins practice from meditation, nor does he introduce into devotion the language of sensual passion.
Dr. Beaumont's poetical faculty may be defined in few words, as a power of conceiving vividly, and of embodying his conceptions with facility, by the aid of a rich store of expressive words, and a fancy inexhaustibly fruitful in illustrative